Which is it? "Monster Mash"? Theme from "The Exorcist" (Tubular Bells)? "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"? "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"? "Sympathy for the Devil"?
Nah. The scariest lyrics I have ever heard are those in the sidebar to the right: "You Don't Own Me". And you can draw a line from that song through the 60's and 70's to Lindsay Buckingham's "I'm So Afraid", or, more indirectly, "The Chain", and you would have the darkest, fiercest, most frightening lyrics imaginable. And unique. Can you think of another song like it?
And please, please, please, in the name of all that is decent and respectful and witty, don't cite "I am Woman".
But if you said "I've Never Been to Me" is it's evil twin-- it's polar opposite-- damn right!
Now-- you may have noticed that this proto-feminist lyric was written by... yes, two men. Turns out that one of them, John Madara, is also associated with the ridiculous "Dawn of Correction", a song that testifies to the absurdity of it's own "message. Look it up sometime-- it's an answer to "Eve of Destruction". But don't mistake it for a right-wing response like Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets". "Dawn of Correction" points out that things aren't so bad-- we have the Peace Corps, and the United Nations!
So what's so scary about "You Don't Know Me"? It's the affront to the most fundamental of all human needs. We often think of it as the need to love. But in it's naked form, isn't it really a lot more like the desire to be loved, to be needed, to be indispensable to someone we badly want to be indispensable to?
There is the shock of "don't say I can't go out with other boys"-- an attack on one of the most fundamental assumptions we hold about love relationships: it's exclusivity. I don't need you-- so our relationship depends on whether or not I want you. And if I want someone else, I'm not going to allow anything in our existing relationship-- the poor boy-- to be an impediment to my pursuit of those other relationships.
It gets worse! "Don't try to change me in any way". Yes, yes, we all claim that we love our beloved just as they are, and almost none of us mean it. In fact, the ability to manipulate someone goes right to the essence of our relationships, as much as we all passionately deny it. And once again-- if you won't change because I want you to change, doesn't that really mean that my power of you-- because you love me so much-- is really limited? That my fantasy of you suffering because I have withdrawn my approval from you is deflated and empty?
But the pinnacle of horror isn't even expressed until we get to "I don't tell you what to say/Oh [I] don't tell you what to do". To some people, that sounds a lot like "I don't care what you do", and that is the last, fatal statement on a relationship that has entered the terminal phase. But doesn't it really mean that I accept you as you are, and that I love the qualities you have, not the ones I imagine you have after I have fixed you up? I think so. But that's not where most of us are at. It's not what -- if we were honest-- most of us really want from a relationship.
The sitcom "Cheers" had one thing right-- Diane and Sam like each other but both recoil in horror at the prospect of admitting that either of them needs the other. When Diane succeeds in teasing even a modest admission from Sam, that he does kind of like her, she immediately mocks and humiliates him. It's all very high schoolish-- craving the power to refuse. To be "old enough to repay/ but young enough to sell" as Neil Young put it.
Copyright © 2008 Bill Van Dyk All rights reserved.